Ravens might pick off a QB

The Baltimore Sun

The only intriguing aspect about today's draft for the Ravens is whether they will select a quarterback. Basically, all the suspense is gone because it's safe to assume the Ravens, despite the return of second-team All-Pro Jonathan Ogden, will draft a quality offensive lineman early.

But what about a quarterback for the future? If there has been an Achilles' heel of the Ravens as far as the draft, it has been their lack of success in grooming a young quarterback. The failure has transcended two owners, two directors of scouting and two pro personnel directors. And while Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has been the constant of this franchise since it moved to Baltimore from Cleveland for the 1996 season, there is one blemish on an otherwise sparkling resume.

He can't pick quarterbacks.

The Ravens can find late-round picks and free agents who become Pro Bowl players. Their first-round selections have been outstanding, including two all-but-certain future Hall of Famers - Ogden and Ray Lewis - on their first two picks in team history.

But when it comes to quarterbacks, the Ravens stink.

They've selected guys like Wally Richardson, Chris Redman, Wes Pate and Derek Anderson. At least those guys were mid- to late-round draft picks. But the Ravens even blew it when they traded up to take Kyle Boller with the No. 19 overall pick in 2003.

Today might be the time to take the risk again, and it will be interesting to see whether they are bold enough to take one, especially early in the draft because of their shortcomings.

Starter Steve McNair is 34 and injury-prone. He made it through last season without a serious injury, but it's doubtful that will happen again. Boller, the backup, is in the last year of his contract. Unless McNair gets injured and Boller plays well, he's history. Even if he does play well, do the Ravens sign him to a long-term deal with McNair still having three years left on his contract?

The Ravens still have second-year quarterback Drew Olson on the roster, but he appears to be more of a stop-gap solution instead of the player to build the offense around. The perfect time appears to be now, when a rookie could learn from McNair and Boller, and develop.

"We have evaluated the quarterbacks with as much importance as we have any other position in the draft," Newsome said. "People around the league will say we are concentrating on the offensive line. We've spent as much time on the quarterbacks."

Is this the truth or a smoke screen? After all, this is the NFL draft. Anything goes.

It might be a fabrication, except that Ravens offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel has spent a lot of time traveling this season taking a personal look at quarterbacks. With the 29th overall pick today, it's highly unlikely the two top-rated quarterbacks, LSU's JaMarcus Russell and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, will be around when the Ravens pick in the first round.

But after the first round, there could be options, such as Michigan State's Drew Stanton, Brigham Young's John Beck, Stanford's Trent Edwards, Houston's Kevin Kolb and Ohio State's Troy Smith.

Now, do the Ravens stay true to their draft board and take the highest-rated player, or do they possibly reach a little for a player such as Kolb, Beck or Stanton?

You know Newsome has run the situation through his mind countless times. He also has to look at his track record, and that of coach Brian Billick. Despite Billick's reputation as an offensive-minded coach, he has yet to develop a young quarterback or even re-establish a veteran until McNair came along last season. If the Ravens wait until the late rounds to draft a quarterback, then he'll be unpolished and will struggle.

But with someone such as Beck, Stanton or Kolb, they're going to at least get a quarterback from a big-time program who has played in big games. The Ravens might not be able to develop him either, but at least the chances are better.

The Ravens' situation with quarterbacks is similar to the problems they had with receivers until recently. They struck out with guys such as Patrick Johnson, Javin Hunter, Ron Johnson and Travis Taylor until they took Oklahoma's Mark Clayton in the first round in 2005, and then Demetrius Williams in the fourth round last year.

Combined with tight end Todd Heap and veteran receiver Derrick Mason, the Ravens have their best receiving corps since the team's early years with Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander.

A couple of weeks ago at the team's draft luncheon, the Ravens appeared to be at ease with their preparations for this weekend. But deep down inside, the quarterback situation has to be making Newsome a little worried. Last season, the position was a strength. But with McNair a year older and Boller probably headed for free agency, the Ravens need to find a possible replacement.

Regardless of how much the league has changed through the years, the NFL is still a quarterback-driven league, and three of its top teams a year ago - the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and Ravens - had proven quarterbacks.

Of the three, McNair seems most likely to get hurt or retire soon. The Ravens might need to prepare today for that eventual reality.


Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral.

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